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Monday, February 11, 2019

Pioneering Women Photographers in Africa: Natalie Knight and Suzanne Priebatsch

Ndebele bride wearing beaded neck and leg rings, 
South Africa, circa 1977-circa 1983, 
EEPA 2012-010-0100

The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA) is pleased to share the Natalie Knight and Suzanne Priebatsch Collection (EEPA 2012-010).  The collection consists of 1,305 color slides, primarily documenting the Ndebele peoples of South Africa (circa 1977-circa 1983).  The images have been digitized and are available online.  In the coming year, the negatives in the collection will also be digitized as part of our Pioneering Women Photographers in Africa project.

Suzanne Priebatsch with Ndebele women and children,
South Africa, circa 1977-circa 1983, 
EEPA 2012-010-0407

Art gallery owner, collector, curator, and art critic Natalie Knight and educator, writer, and business woman Suzanne Priebatsch traveled together in the 1970s and 1980s to research and document the Ndebele peoples and arts of South Africa.  In 1976 these two intrepid women set out to explore and photograph the activities, kraals (homesteads), architecture, murals, cultural ceremonies, and ornamental objects of the Ndebele peoples.  Traveling widely in South Africa, including in Mpumalanga, Limpopo Province, Delmas, Loskop, and Nebo, the women gained insight into the indigenous South Africans' cultures across the country. 

Natalie Knight, South Africa,
circa 1977-circa 1983, EEPA 2012-010-1041

In particular, Knight and Priebatsch were interested in Ndebele women's art, not just because of its beauty and intricacy, but because it reflected larger social politics.  During this period, apartheid was omnipresent and many white South Africans did not agree that the Ndebele art was progressive, but rather described it as simple and unsophisticated.  As Knight wrote in her book, The Big Picture: an Art-O-Biography (2017):

"I ardently admired the beautiful Ndebele design ethos.  I was also fascinated by the social changes which were depicted in the beadwork and murals and immediately recognised their importance as cultural artefacts. It was not a view shared by the vast majority of white South Africans, who dismissed black culture as ‘primitive’." 

Ndebele wife of Chief David Mapoch, South Africa, 
circa 1977-circa 1983, EEPA 2012-010-0428

A major traveling exhibition, Designs of the Ndebele (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), which traveled through the United States from 1979 to 1981, was followed by the publication of Ndebele Images (sponsored by Castle Milk Stout in South Africa) in 1983. This publication and exhibition, along with the exhibition, Art of the Ndebele: The Evolution of a Cultural Identity (Atlanta International Museum, 1998) provide documentary evidence that the Ndebele women's artwork is anything but “primitive”, but rather highly sophisticated.  In sharing images of Ndebele ornamental objects that are crafted and worn by women, including leg and neck rings, maces, Nyoga (snake), Pepetu, Jocolo, Linaga, Nguba, Ghabi, Breast Plates, and Scotch, the women significantly increased the public's understanding and appreciation of the Ndebele women's unique artistry.   

Ndebele jocole, South Africa, circa 1977-circa 1983,
EEPA 2012-010-1257

Ndebele mother with twins, South Africa, circa 1977-circa 1983, EEPA 2012-010-0542 

While they primarily documented Ndebele peoples, Knight and Priebatsch also photographed the Venda, Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Sotho, Tsonga/Shangaan and Tswana peoples.  Capturing images from little-documented ceremonies including the Domba Initiation Dance, a Zulu wedding, and a Swazi Reed Dance add to the richness of the collection.  For examples of Ndebele art held by the National Museum of African Art, see here

Ndebele church with murals, South Africa,
November 1978, EEPA 2012-010-0336

In addition to viewing the online 
images, please visit 
our archives (email 
to make an appointment) to see more of the collection, which includes photographic prints, exhibition announcements and catalogs, articles and clippings, correspondence, and research notes.  The collection also contains three DVDs: Dungamanzi: Stirring Waters, Tsonga and Shangaan Art from Southern Africa, and two that document the exhibition l'Afrique: A Tribute to   Maria-Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel (Museum Africa, 2009), which was curated by Knight. 

Ndebele women women painting mural, November 1978, South Africa, EEPA 2012-010-0189

Be sure to check out other blog posts in this series, Pioneering Women Photographers of Africa, including one about Constance Stuart Larrabee (her photographs were exhibited at the 
Natalie Knight Gallery in 1983), who also photographed among Ndebele peoples in South Africa. Next month's blog will feature art historian and photographer Jean Borgatti.  

Please see below for additional biographical information for Knight and Priebatsch.

To obtain high-resolution images and permission for publication or exhibition, 
please contact the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art.

Portrait of Xhosa woman, South Africa, circa 1977-circa 1983, EEPA 2012-010-1092

Natalie Knight 
Art gallery owner, collector, curator, researcher, writer and art critic Natalie Knight was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and earned a Diploma of Law (1957) and Bachelor of Arts (1974) 
from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits).  Knight is married to Zamie Liknaitzky, who also travelled and photographed in South Africa. After practicing as a lawyer for a short time, Knight moved her professional focus to art. She founded the 
Natalie Knight Gallery in Hyde Park (1981-1995), with the opening show Whatever Happened to Pop Art? that featured works by Warhol, Dine, Hamilton and Hockney. In 2007, along with Nessa Leibhammer, Knight curated Dungamanzi/Stirring Waters (Tsonga and Shangaan Art from 
Southern Africa) at JAG 2007 and l'Afrique: A Tribute to Maria-Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel at Museum Africa in 2009. From December 2008 through 2012, Knight served as Art Curator for the West Campus at Wits University. In 2013 Knight curated the exhibition We Love Mandela: Art Inspired by Madiba, which previewed at the Peacemaker's Museum in Sandton to celebrate Mandela's 95th birthday (July 18, 2013), and (in October 2013) at the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square, London. In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts and Culture section from CEO Magazines "Most Influential Women in Business and Government". In 2017 Knight published her Art-O-Biography, The Big Picture, which documents the major events of her professional career.  Knight has three children, twelve grandchildren, and four great-children.

Suzanne Priebatsch 
Educator, writer, and business woman Suzanne Priebatsch graduated from Smith College (B.A., 1971) and Harvard University (Masters in Theological Studies, 1974).  She was married to the late Norman Priebatsch, who travelled and worked alongside Priebatsch in South Africa. Priebatsch 
has held such varying positions as volunteer teacher at Clarke School for the Deaf (1967-1971), Assistant Art Librarian at Yale University (Summer 1969), Director of the Hillel Program at Simmons College and Wheelock College (1972-1974), Education Programming and Public Relations Assistant at Johannesburg Art Gallery (1974-1975), Projects Officer at the Art Institute, South Africa (1975-1976), freelance writer, lecturer at University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Partner of the Economic Planning Group, Boston. She began an investment management 
career in 1986 and has worked at Smith Barney, now Morgan Stanley, for three decades. She is currently a Senior Vice President, with the title of Senior Investment Management Consultant, at Morgan Stanley. She recently spoke at the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston's 
exhibition, Made Visible: Contemporary South African Fashion and Identity (2019).  Priebatsch 
has two children, Daniella and Seth.

Ndebele mother wearing brass neck rings and holding baby, South Africa, 
circa 1977-circa 1983, EEPA 2012-010-0072

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